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Rep. Haley Stevens ends Levin political dynasty in brutal Democratic primary

The rare incumbent-vs.-incumbent matchup in Michigan pitted Stevens, a moderate, and Andy Levin, a progressive, in a battle that was colored by differences over Israel policy.
Image: Andy Levin and Haley Stevens.
Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., and Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich.NBC News / AP

WASHINGTON — The Levin political dynasty came to an end Tuesday night in a brutal House primary in the Detroit suburbs, as NBC News projects that progressive Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., lost to more moderate Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich.

Levin is the son of former Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., and a nephew of the late Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. At least one member of the family has served in Congress since 1979 — a run that will come to an end in January.

The rare incumbent-vs.-incumbent primary matchup was the result of a redistricting plan that merged portions of their current districts, with more voters coming from Stevens' current territory.

In an unusual twist, Levin, who is Jewish, was forced to defend his record on Israel-related policies against attacks from supporters of Stevens, who has been more hawkish on the issue despite not being Jewish. A super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee spent $4.2 million on ads boosting Stevens and hitting Levin, while J Street, a progressive pro-Israel group, paid about $700,000 for ads backing Levin.

But the split over Israel was just one prominent thread in a story packed with subplots.

Both campaigns focused heavily on appealing to Black voters in the newly reconfigured 11th District — where 29% of the voting-age population is nonwhite. Stevens won endorsements from retiring Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., who is Black and currently represents many of the district's constituents, and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty.

The race also became a national battleground for the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party, with liberal luminaries such as Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., campaigning for Levin in the final weeks.

Finally, it served as a showcase for the strength of EMILY’s List, a group that supports female candidates who favor abortion rights. An EMILY’s List offshoot pumped more than $5 million into helping Stevens, even though Levin supports abortion rights and was recently arrested outside the Supreme Court while protesting for their protection.

While the race directly affected just one seat in Congress, the spending and high-profile endorsements both pointed to the importance political elites placed on the outcome of the contest, which had come to represent much more to activists, donors and the leaders of the progressive and centrist wings of the Democratic Party.

The intense spotlight brought unexpected heat to a campaign between two lawmakers who almost always vote the same way on the House floor.

One of Stevens’ most influential supporters this year accused Levin of being “arguably the most corrosive member of Congress to the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

The two differed far more on vision than voting.

Levin is an activist who has embraced the main pillars of the progressive movement's agenda, including Sanders' "Medicare for All" single-payer health insurance plan, the Green New Deal climate proposal and criticism of Israel's handling of its relationship with the Palestinians.

Stevens, who prefers a public option for health insurance, has not signed on to the House's Green New Deal bill, and she has consistently supported America's backing of Israel's government. Allies routinely describe her as pragmatic in her approach to politics.

In one of their few splits over major legislation, Stevens voted for the United States-Mexico-Canada trade deal, which revised and replaced the old North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Levin, who has backing from some national unions, voted against the Trump-era agreement.

Stevens spokeswoman Larkin Parker said the congresswoman got a "big jump" in her numbers after the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade's federal protection for abortion rights.

Stevens' support in the business community and among AIPAC-affiliated donors had helped her raise $4.7 million by mid-July, $1.5 million of which she still had on hand for the final few weeks of the race.

Levin had trouble keeping pace. He had raised $2.7 million by mid-July and had a little more than $700,000 on hand.

His defeat closes a long chapter of recent Michigan political history in which the Levin family's dynasty was surpassed only by the Dingells, who have represented one of the state's congressional districts since 1933.